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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

A Practice to Get Clear on Living the Life You Want

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Mar 11th 2010

lightulbThere's a great metaphor that comes out the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) community and speaks to a true acceptance on how our difficult emotions can control us. Imagine you were on a bus called "your life." The passengers that get picked up on this bus are all your memories, habitual thoughts, emotions, impulses, etc... When we get on the bus it seems to be a struggle with our difficult emotions as they want to control the direction we're going to go, so they make a big stink and we'll do anything to fix the struggle. So, what happens?

We make a deal with them that if they go sit in the back of the bus, so we don't have to deal with them, we'll let them control the direction of the bus. For example, when depression visits, we'll lie in bed and avoid seeing people or if we're dealing with social anxiety, we'll also avoid people or maybe not show up completely so we don't have to fully experience the anxiety. The problem is this negotiation we've made strips us away of truly living our lives.

Another approach called Psychosynthesis calls this living in the survival personality. This is a great term as it says it so well.

What's happening is we've lost our sense of direction. The direction we want to go in isn't just to hide or avoid our difficult feelings; it's to live life fully which includes experiencing other feelings such as joy.

In order to get our sense of direction, we need to be aware of our values.

To understand what your values really are, it's important to understand what values are. Values are not a noun, they are not something that one has or attains. They are direction we point ourselves in and are ongoing. For example, if you have the value to have a physically healthy body, you don't stop taking the actions that led to physical health once the body seems healthy. Values are like a compass, they point us in a direction.

Here is an exercise to do that may help you get a bit clearer on your values. Feel free to come back to this again and again.

I'm going to ask you to be a guest at your own funeral. Not for the purpose of creating a morbid experience, but more for the purpose to see what your life is truly about or what you would like it to be about. If for any reason this is too triggering for you right now, feel free to step away from this practice and come back to it another time.

So, imagine your funeral many years from now. Although you have passed away, you were able to come back in some spirit form watching your own funeral occur. Take a few moments to imagine this.

Now, imagine you just continued living your life the way you do now. A close family member or friend gets up to give your eulogy. In this eulogy the person talks about what you stood for in life and about what you cared about.  What does he or she say?

Now, imagine your lived your life the way you imagined you would want to live your life? A close family member or friend gets up to give your eulogy. In this eulogy the person talks about what you stood for in life and about what you cared about.  What does he or she say?

Just notice what came up for you. You can come back to this again and again.

What did come up for you? Please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction here provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Finding Values - - Mar 13th 2010

I hate my life. It's also true that I love my life.  I have no compass and have no idea where I am going.  My Father, whom I took care of and looked up to, died after a brief illness last summer.  I lived with him and he was the center of my world after the death of my Mom 8 years ago and the subsequent end of my marriage of 20 years a few years after that.  When my Dad became ill, suddenly siblings who were unavailable to assist with him before, came forth and started to try and give orders for his care.  None of them wanted to get their hands dirty, they only wanted to tell me how to do it.  After my Father's passing, my oldest brother, who had bought my Father's house from him many years ago for a fraction of it's worth, gave me 5 weeks to move.  Two days before I was supposed to be out, his wife and her kids showed up and started remodeling the home.  I had no one to help me move.  I did what I could but I lost a lot of my stuff (they moved what was left to the front yard where it sat for months)  My Father and I had discussed this happening but he did not foresee it.  He did not think my brother would be so cruel but alas, his wife was, if not him.  My Dad left his life insurance to me, a small amount, enough to get me moved.  My brother wanted me to give him the money for the funeral.  I refused.  He hasn't spoke to me since, nor two of my sisters who were instrumental in my eyes in making my Dad's last days harder for him.  I do not miss these people, they were cruel to me most of my life but I cannot get over the grief I feel for the loss of my Dad.  To top it all off, I am not sure if my roommate is reliable, my health is horrible and I am facing probably having to have both hips replaced and knee surgery. I am 49 but I feel like I am dying and so I am reading your website and come upon the article about imagining your funeral, etc and all I can imagine is that no one will come except for my room mate and my boss and I am not real sure about those two.  Maybe my two other brothers and one of my sisters.  It's just so sad to me...I miss my great nephew, who's mother is not talking to me now because her Dad isn't.  All attempts for contact have no response.  I have written horrible things to people in my grief and anger, which only further alienated me from those I had left.

I do not know how I will pay for the surgeries I need.  I was on social security disability for awhiile but returned to work a year ago and so they are cutting that and I have Medicare coverage but it won't pay for it all.  I need glasses, dental doesn't end.  I make 11 dollars an will I survive?  I think it may be too expensive for me to live any longer.  I have a daughter who is 30 years old who has addiction and medical issues herself and is very undependable. 

I was always the one everyone depended on and now no one needs me except my job and I can barely walk so I am not sure how long this will last.

I guess I just needed to get this out.  I know I am miserable and miserable to be around and I am struggling to just find some kind of joy in my life.

Thanks for listening, if anyone read this far.


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